Boys' Lacrosse

MIAA keeping eye on concussions

By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / May 21, 2012
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Conor Roddy doesn’t remember anything about the play that knocked him out of an April 18 game against Duxbury, jeopardized his senior season on Medfield’s lacrosse team and forced him to miss three days of school.

He slept for the next 18 hours after getting home and couldn’t watch TV without getting a headache for almost three weeks. Even walking became a difficult task.

Area coaches call him one of the best players in Massachusetts, but Roddy was no use to Medfield standing on the sidelines with a concussion for four weeks during the heart of the Warriors’ schedule. And yet here we are, with tournament pairings out Friday, and Roddy said he’s yet to return to 100 percent.

“That’s a shame,” Wellesley coach Rocky Batty said of Roddy’s injury-shortened season. “Not just for Medfield, but for the coaches and players that want to see him play. It’s awful for a kid like him.”

Medfield has lost four players to concussions this year, and all it takes is a look across Division 2 toward Wellesley to find a similar situation.

“I’ve coached 20 years, and up until this year, I’ve had two kids with concussions,” said Batty. “This year I’ve got four, and I see one every week when I go watch games.

“If no one is going to take a stand and start protecting kids, Massachusetts has lost its soul on the lacrosse field. Lost its soul.’’

Beginning this school year, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began enforcing a new law regarding safety and awareness, specifically for the handling and reporting of concussions that all MIAA schools must amend by.

But the primary verbiage of the law regards taking a cautious approach for athletes who suffer any kind of hit to the head (any hit suspected of a concussion requires a doctor’s approval before allowing the player back on the field), while the preventing of such hits lies in the hands of the referees, players, and coaches.

The referees, per MIAA rule, have the authority to eject any player who they feel may have targeted the head of hit with intent to injure.

But a survey of six area coaches with close to 100 years of combined experience on the sidelines revealed that they’ve never seen any referee eject a player during an MIAA high school game.

“I definitely believe that some players should immediately be kicked out of the game,” said Needham coach David Wainwright, whose squad lost junior Ned Connolly for two weeks with a concussion earlier this season.

“Often times, if you’re not hurting someone, they don’t call it. And I have a problem with that, because sometimes you see a kid go for the dangerous hit, and he misses it, and you’re like, ‘What if that head stuff happens, now you want to call it?’

“If you have intent to go hit a kid because you lost your cool, that itself should be an ejection.”

Wainwright acknowledged that it’s a difficult call for any referee to make and it would likely come with a ton of backfire, especially considering the low frequency of ejections, which only points more responsibility to the coaches.

“Coaches have a huge role of controlling your team and playing the right way,” said Concord-Carlisle coach Tom Dalicandro. “And lacrosse in general - a lot of the coaches know each other, so there’s a lot of respect. What happens is you get those rivalry games with the championship on the line - sometimes kids make bad decisions.

“I think it’s really important as a coach in that moment to teach the kid what you think is right. We try to tell our guys we don’t play that way.”

Added Batty, “When a kid is sent to the box on an egregious penalty, it’s not a place for a coach to say, ‘How can you put him in here?’ or for them to believe in the idea that because the kid is going across the crease, he should get buried. That’s craziness to me.

“I just wish that coaches would always make a statement if you think it’s not the cleanest hit. You don’t have to put the kid on the end of the bench and tell him he’s the worst person in the world. But I think you have to say, ‘Let’s get that out of lacrosse. I’m going to start right here by telling you that it’s unacceptable.”

The number of concussions suffered during boys’ lacrosse games this spring is sure to open some eyes, MIAA spokesman Paul Wetzel admits. But that’s because this is the first season in which thorough reporting of concussions has become mandatory for every school.

And while some believe there has been an alarming increase over the past few years, others have said the exact opposite.

There’s no doubt that the sport itself has continued to gain interest from youths across the state. But how that’s interpreted for player safety is up to debate.

While some, like Batty, believe that all the inexperienced players who are primary athletes in other contact sports simply carry their aggressiveness over to lacrosse, others believe the rise in interest has forced the game to rely more heavily on technical ability rather than physicality.

“I think it’s actually become less physical,” said Westford coach Matt Tholander, who played at Billerica Memorial, his alma mater, for legendary coach Steve Connolly. “And the reason why is that there are more kids exposed to it at an earlier age. At U-11, U-9, there’s no contact, no checks whatsoever, so it’s become more of a finesse game than a rough-and-tough, I’m-going-to-bully-you-around type of game.

“There are fewer chances for concussions now than say, 20 years ago. And I was that way. We prided ourselves on trying to hurt the other team. We were going to break your will. We we’re going to continue to hit you until you don’t want to come back and play anymore.”

Said Wainwright, “We’re very much on the precaution side. It’s just out there now. People are more educated on it. It’s been a good thing and we’re doing our diligence.”

It took two weeks for Roddy to stop having the headaches, for him to fully concentrate on anything again.

But he lost a month’s worth of endurance and physical strength as the postseason nears. He was held scoreless in a Tri-Valley League showdown with Dover-Sherborn on Thursday, a rarity for the cage-seeking attackman, though he certainly played his part by drawing the Raiders’ top defender and dishing out three assists.

But he’s still not as good as he’d like to be. He said he’s been careful not to put himself in dangerous situations while he’s slowly getting his comfort back.

No matter what Roddy does on the field during his final games as a high school athlete before suiting up for Williams College in the fall, the concern is that he could suffer long-term symptoms.

Because whether coaches disagree on the effectiveness of a statewide effort to reduce concussions, they all believe that there’s no shortage of caution when it comes to protecting the brains of high school students.

Not every hit in lacrosse is dirty. And not every dirty hit is intentional. But the ones that are might need to be taken more seriously if concussions are to be limited.

As North Reading coach Chuck Campobasso tells his players, “I just want you to be able to play with your kids in the backyard when you’re 35 years old. It’s not all about right now. It’s also about your future.’’

Games of the week

Reading at Concord-Carlisle, Wednesday, 4 p.m. - The Rockets suffered a bizarre loss to hand Belmont their first win of the season, but they’ll want to prove they can compete with the finest in Division 2.

Beverly at Masconomet, Wednesday, 6 p.m. - The Chieftains provide a big test for the surging Panthers, who have outscored their last three opponents, 38-13.

Newton North at Needham, Monday, 4 p.m. - The Bay State Conference Carey division is on the line.

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